One day you’re second in the Tour de France, the next you’re 10th. That’s the situation for Bauke Mollema, the rider who began the 19th stage 3’52” behind the yellow jersey.
One day you’re second in a time trial of the Tour de France, the next you’re out of the race with a fractured bone in your wrist. That’s the situation for Tom Dumoulin, the dual stage winner of the 2016 Tour.
“Rio is all he’s spoken about for the last year,” said journalists for a radio station in Maastricht, the city near where Dumoulin is from.
Chances are a DNF at the Tour won’t mean a DNS for the Olympics but Dumoulin is left with quite a task: recover from what an accident on the final Friday of a Grand Tour and try to manage his main objective of the season as best he can.
The final Fridays of the first two Grand Tours of 2016 haven’t been kind to the Dutch riders.
In the Giro d’Italia we saw Steven Kruijswijk tumble out of the maglia rosa in spectacular style with only a few days to go in a race he seemed poised to win.
In the Tour de France the curse of Friday struck twice: first Dumoulin, out of the race and into an ambulance for further examination. And then Mollema, off the road and out of contention for the podium because of a stormy day in the Alps.
There was a fist-pump from race leader Chris Froome as he won the time trial on Thursday. And then wary comments offered in the post-race press conference. To win the Tour, you need to make it to Paris.
Romain Bardet is now Froome’s closest rival: the stage winner on the final Friday of Le Tour 2016 is 4’11” behind on GC with the two-time Tour runner-up, Nairo Quintana shifting up to third overall at 4’27”.
Bardet gave France a reason to celebrate in the Alps. A second stage win at the Tour in two years, backing up his efforts in St-Jean-de-Maurienne in stage 18 last year.
Never one to hold back on the climbs, Bardet took a chance on a descent in stage 19 this year. Together with Mikael Cherel the AG2R La Mondiale pair set off in pursuit of early escapees.
There are now 175 riders left in the race. But on a treacherous day on wet roads, the attrition rate could have been much higher.
Dumoulin and Daniel Navarro of Cofidis are the casualties of stage 19. Both crashed heavily and although they were out of contention for a high placing on GC, they had animated the action.
Dutch cycling laments what might have been had Mollema been able to hold his place in the yellow jersey’s group, rather than finishing 23rd 4’26” behind the stage winner. He is now in 10th place, 7’42” behind Froome.
The day began with forecast of storms and the rain would ultimately claim a considerable toll. Dumoulin crashed out on dry roads but then mayhem followed.
The injury list will be a long one for stage 19 with many affected by crashes, including Chris Froome himself. His bike slid out from under him and he landed with a thud just ahead of the 2014 Tour champion, Vincenzo Nibali.
“I knew the car was quite a while back and my bike, I could see it wasn’t rideable after the crash and thanks a lot to Geraint for his bike.”
Froome was surprisingly calm as he gently cast his broken bike aside and duly continued on, with the yellow jersey torn and blood stains seeping through the lycra.
“Tomorrow is going to be hard,” Froome said at the finish, “it’s going to be really hard.”
He has dominated the general classification since taking the yellow jersey after winning in Luchon and Froome continues to hold a healthy lead but there’s one more important stage on the itinerary.
And more storms are forecast by the weather bureau.
Adam Yates of Orica-BikeExchange knew that he would be under attack on these final two days in the mountains and although he never crashed, he did seem to suffer a few bad patches during the 146km stage from Albertville. He had been third overall, now he’s fourth at 4’46”.
“Just nine seconds,” said team owner Gerry Ryan at the bus afterwards. “He’s got a big day ahead of him tomorrow.”
A decision by the commissaires to penalise Yates for a hand-sling in stage 19 cost the rider in the white jersey 10”, otherwise he’d be just one-second shy of third overall.
The battle for the podium continues for the young Brit.
The aim for the Australian team is to get another rider on another GC podium of another Grand Tour. Their Colombian star Estaban Chaves was second in the Giro d’Italia in May. Yates is within a whiff of third place in France. And, according to Ryan, Chaves is quietly preparing for the third three-week race of 2016… which many in the team believe he can win.
* * * * *
Stage 20 promises to be another amazing showdown. It’s not a climbing finale in the mountains for 2016, but a speedy descent down to Morzine.
The last major challenge of the 103rd Tour is the col de Joux-Plane, a tough climb at the best of times but should it be wet – as the weather bureau is suggesting – then the descent will be treacherous.
Caution will be required but when there’s pride at stake riders are prone to taking risks they may otherwise never have considered.
At times the 2016 Tour de France has seemed like a procession. The ‘blue line’ at the front, a yellow jersey tucked neatly in the wake of team-mates… and the occasional flurry of activity by riders striving to gain a few seconds advantage here and there.
If all goes to plan, it’s likely that Chris Froome will win a third title and he’ll do that because he’s the best all-round rider in the race.
He can climb (we knew that already). He can descend (we learned that in Luchon). He can ride in the wind and hold his own in a sprint (as we saw in Montpellier). He can run (as he demonstrated on Mont Ventoux).
Froome can also bounce back up after crashing and limit his losses while chaos is all around him. We saw that on the road to St-Gervais.
Things are turning out as planned for Team Sky but the final act remains.
There’s been a significant reshuffle of the top order of GC after 19 stages and anticipation of the penultimate day is high. The race may have been won, but it’s still far from over even if Paris seems to be just on the horizon.
– By Rob Arnold